Dbytes #296 (20 July 2017)

Info & news for members and associates of the Environmental Decisions Group

“Population extinctions today are orders of magnitude more frequent than species extinctions. Population extinctions, however, are a prelude to species extinctions, so Earth’s sixth mass extinction episode has proceeded further than most assume. The massive loss of populations is already damaging the services ecosystems provide to civilization.”
Ceballos et al, 2017 [see item 1]

General News

1. Biological annihilation via the ongoing sixth mass extinction signaled by vertebrate population losses and declines
2. Dept of Environment and Energy issued conservation advice for 30 species and six ecological communities listed as threatened.
3. Academy of Australian Science releases education reader on invasive species
4. A comparative assessment of field approaches to marine monitoring
5. Local Leadership: Tracking Local Government Progress on Climate Change

EDG News

UQ Node: James Watson and Martine Maron on the GBR – it isn’t listed as ‘in danger’ but it’s still in big trouble
ANU Node: David Lindenmayer and colleagues on non-target impacts of weed control on birds, mammals, and reptiles
RMIT Node: Laura Mumaw and colleagues on transforming urban gardeners into land stewards
UWA Node: Restoring reptiles
UMelb Node: Freya Thomas on growth races in The Mallee

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General News

1. Biological annihilation via the ongoing sixth mass extinction signaled by vertebrate population losses and declines
[Recommended by Luke Kelly]

“All signs point to ever more powerful assaults on biodiversity in the next two decades, painting a dismal picture of the future of life, including human life.”

“The strong focus on species extinctions, a critical aspect of the contemporary pulse of biological extinction, leads to a common misimpression that Earth’s biota is not immediately threatened, just slowly entering an episode of major biodiversity loss. This view overlooks the current trends of population declines and extinctions. Using a sample of 27,600 terrestrial vertebrate species, and a more detailed analysis of 177 mammal species, we show the extremely high degree of population decay in vertebrates, even in common “species of low concern.” Dwindling population sizes and range shrinkages amount to a massive anthropogenic erosion of biodiversity and of the ecosystem services essential to civilization. This “biological annihilation” underlines the seriousness for humanity of Earth’s ongoing sixth mass extinction event.”
Ref: Ceballosa G, PR Ehrlich & R Dirzob (2017). Biological annihilation via the ongoing sixth mass extinction signaled by vertebrate population losses and declines.
PNAS, www.pnas.org/cgi/doi/10.1073/pnas.1704949114

[and see item 2]

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2. Dept of Environment and Energy issued conservation advice for 30 species and six ecological communities listed as threatened.

Editor’s note: Of the 30 species listed in this announcement, 16 were animal species and 14 of these were frogs (most of which are found in Queensland).

http://www.environment.gov.au/news/2017/07/13/new-approved-conservation-advices

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3. Academy of Australian Science releases education reader on invasive species
Australia’s silent invaders
http://www.nova.org.au/earth-environment/invasive-species

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4. A comparative assessment of field approaches to marine monitoring

Faced with rapid biodiversity loss, marine researchers and practitioners constrained by both diminishing budgets and rising pressures to build accountability must now more than ever design monitoring programmes that are not only robust but also cost-effective. A vast array of modern tools are available for surveying ocean habitats and wildlife (incl. marine mammals), however choosing among them can be difficult as most differ widely in costs, accessibility, capabilities, mobilisation constraints, resolution or sensitivity, and are evolving rapidly without always being critically evaluated or compared. In response to this, scientists from the Australian Government’s National Environmental Science Programme (NESP)’s Marine Biodiversity Hub are undertaking a detailed comparative assessment of field approaches to marine monitoring. Key to achieving this objective is a fundamental understanding of the current patterns of use, perceptions, and awareness of various sampling gears.

The Marine Biodiversity Hub invites you to take part in a short online questionnaire relating to your experience and familiarity with a variety of pelagic platforms (e.g. aerial/vessel surveys, underwater videography, animal-borne tags, environmental DNA, drones, etc. amongst many more). This work is part of ongoing efforts to develop standard operating procedures for the collection of consistent, comparable, interpretable and fit-for-purpose empirical evidence useful in assessing status and trends in ocean ecosystems.

https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/nespd2-pelagic

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5. Local Leadership: Tracking Local Government Progress on Climate Change

The Climate council issued ‘Local Leadership: Tracking Local Government Progress on Climate Change’.

http://www.climatecouncil.org.au/cpp-report-launch

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EDG News

UQ Node: James Watson and Martine Maron on the GBR – it isn’t listed as ‘in danger’ but it’s still in big trouble
“In a somewhat surprising decision, UNESCO ruled this week that the Great Barrier Reef – one of the Earth’s great natural wonders – should not be listed as “World Heritage in Danger”. The World Heritage Committee praised the Reef 2050 Long-Term Sustainability Plan, and the federal minister for the environment, Josh Frydenberg, has called the outcome “a big win for Australia and a big win for the Turnbull government”. But that doesn’t mean the Reef is out of danger. Afforded World Heritage recognition in 1981, the Reef has been on the warning list for nearly three years. It’s not entirely evident why UNESCO decided not to list the Reef as “in danger” at this year’s meeting, given the many ongoing threats to its health. However, the World Heritage Committee has made it clear they remain concerned about the future of this remarkable world heritage site.
https://theconversation.com/the-great-barrier-reef-isnt-listed-as-in-danger-but-its-still-in-big-trouble-80681

ANU Node: David Lindenmayer and colleagues on non-target impacts of weed control on birds, mammals, and reptiles
The impacts of invasive plant control on native animals are rarely evaluated. Using data from an eight-year study in southeastern Australia, we quantified the effects on native bird, mammal, and reptile species of (1) the abundance of the invasive Bitou Bush, Chrysanthemoides monilifera ssp. rotundata, and (2) a Bitou Bush control program, which involved repeated herbicide spraying interspersed with prescribed burning. We found that overall species richness of birds, mammals, and reptiles and the majority of individual vertebrate species were unresponsive to Bitou Bush cover and the number of plants. Two species including the nationally endangered Eastern Bristlebird (Dasyurus brachypterus) responded positively to measures of native vegetation cover following the control of Bitou Bush. Analyses of the effects of different components of the treatment protocol employed to control Bitou Bush revealed (1) no negative effects of spraying on vertebrate species richness; (2) negative effects of spraying on only one individual species (Scarlet Honeyeater); and (3) lower bird species richness but higher reptile species richness after fire. The occupancy of most individual vertebrates species was unaffected by burning; four species responded negatively and one positively to fire. Our study indicated that actions to remove Bitou Bush generally have few negative impacts on native vertebrates. We therefore suggest that controlling this highly invasive exotic plant species has only very limited negative impacts on vertebrate biota.
Ref: Lindenmayer, D.B., Wood, J., MacGregor, C., Hobbs, R.J., and Catford, J.A. (2017). Non-target impacts of weed control on birds, mammals, and reptiles. Ecosphere, 8(5), e01804.
http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/ecs2.1804/full

RMIT Node: Laura Mumaw and colleagues on
transforming urban gardeners into land stewards
“Transforming urban gardeners into land stewards: The concept of private land stewardship has been promoted since at least the 1940s as a valuable contribution to conservation. By contrast, urban conservation activities and research have focused on public land. Indeed, it has been suggested that urban landowners are unlikely to demonstrate rural levels of land stewardship for lack of opportunity or the stronger place meanings and sense of place found in rural locations. Laura interviewed 16 members of a municipal wildlife gardening program to understand how participation affected their gardening purpose and practice, and attachments to place and nature. Using inductive analysis and a definition of land stewardship derived from Aldo Leopold that encompasses purpose as well as activities, she posits a model for the urban land stewardship development process. It includes an initiation phase that introduces participants to stewardship and their potential to contribute, followed by a development phase where connections to place deepen; stewardship knowledge, competences and activities strengthen; and commitment to stewardship increases. Results show that urban wildlife gardening programs can foster residential land stewardship through learning by doing; visible community involvement and endorsement of one’s contribution are key; and connections to nature, place and community occur as part of the process.”
Ref: Mumaw, L. (2017). Transforming urban gardeners into land stewards. Journal of Environmental Psychology.
http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0272494417300695?via%3Dihub
UWA Node: Restoring reptiles
Dr Leonie Valentine and PhD student Jon-Paul Emery recently presented their current research at the 45th Australian Society for Herpetologists conference held in Fairbridge, Western Australia. Leonie provided an overview of the functional role of reptiles and the potential for translocating reptiles to restore ecosystem function; as has happened with giant tortoises in the Mascarene and Galapagos Islands. JP spoke about his PhD project examining the potential to reintroduce the Christmas Island blue-tailed skinks (Cryptoblepharus egeriae) and Lister’s gecko (Lepidodactylus listeria); two species that are currently extinct in the wild.

For more information see JP’s latest media release: http://www.news.uwa.edu.au/201706309740/international/geckos-and-skinks-back-brink and a link to a short video can be found at https://www.facebook.com/ERIEresearchgroup/posts/1609405365760333

UMelb Node: Freya Thomas on growth races in The Mallee
“The second paper from my PhD has been accepted for publication. In this paper Peter Vesk and I explore growth trajectories of woody plants in the Victorian Mallee, a semi-arid region of south-eastern Australia. We examine the influence of plant functional traits on growth trajectories. We test trait-growth relationships by examining the influence of specific leaf area, woody density, seed size and leaf nitrogen content on three aspects of plant growth; maximum relative growth rate, age at maximum growth and asymptotic height. Woody plant species in the semi-arid mallee exhibit fast growth trajectories. Small seeded species were likely to be the fastest to reach maximum height, while large-seeded species with high leaf nitrogen were likely the slowest. Tall species had low stem densities and tended to have low specific leaf area. We modeled plant growth using a hierarchical multi-species model that formally incorporates plant functional traits as species-level predictors of growth, which provides a method for predicting species height growth strategies as a function of their traits. We further extended this approach by using the modeled relationships from our trait-growth model to predict: growth trajectories of species with limited data; real species with only trait data and; hypothetical species based only on trait coordination. We hope this highlights the potential to use trait information for ecological inference and to generate predictions that could be used for management. Please email if you would like more information.”
https://fmthomasresearch.wordpress.com/2017/07/12/growth-races-in-the-mallee/

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About Dbytes
Dbytes is the eNewsletter of the Environmental Decisions Group. It is edited and distributed by David Salt. If you have any contributions to Dbytes (ie, opportunities and resources that you think might think be of value to other Dbyte readers) please send them to David.Salt@anu.edu.au. Please keep them short and provide a link for more info. While Dbytes is primarily aimed at members of the EDG, anyone is welcome to receive it.

About EDG
The Environmental Decision Group (EDG) is a network of conservation researchers working on the science of effective decision making to better conserve biodiversity. Our members are largely based at the University of Queensland, the Australian National University, the University of Melbourne, the University of Western Australia, RMIT and CSIRO. The EDG receives support from the ARC Centre of Excellence for Environmental Decisions (CEED). You can find out about the wonderful work of CEED by reading its magazine, Decision Point (which, as it happens, is also produced by David Salt).

Decision Point: http://www.decision-point.com.au/

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